TIANJIN, China -- No.2 seed Caroline Garcia of France survived an extremely difficult opening set before easing to the Tianjin Open title over top seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic on Sunday, prevailing 7-6(7), 6-3, for her first singles title of the season.
"It’s very nice for me to win a title again, because the emotion and the feeling after the match point is something very special and very difficult to describe," Garcia told the press, after the match. "That’s what you’re working on all year long to get, this trophy in your hand and those emotions."
Garcia staged a remarkable comeback in the first-set tiebreak, rebounding from 1-5 down and saving one set point at 5-6 before taking that set after over an hour of play. Garcia then moved through the second set to pick up the win in one hour and 43 minutes, leveling her head-to-head record with Pliskova at three victories apiece.
"Everyone was serving very well, it was a very intense first set," said Garcia. "I was down set point, but I kept fighting and I tried to move forward, and take my opportunity. I was a little bit more aggressive than her, and I think that’s what made the difference in the first set."
The World No.16 from France claimed her last singles trophies just over a year ago, when she won back-to-back titles at Wuhan and Beijing to earn the final spot at the 2017 WTA Finals. Though she is no longer in the mix for Singapore this year, she clinched another title in China with aplomb, fending off five of Pliskova's six break points and sealing the match with one of her six aces, just two fewer than the big-serving Czech.
"Of course, I’ve won three titles in China so it’s bringing me luck," said Garcia. "It’s really nice, China is doing a lot for women’s tennis."
The loss puts a crimp in Pliskova's immediate plans to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. The Czech is still in position to make the WTA Finals but needed to win the Tianjin Open title to have a chance to qualify on Sunday. The former World No.1 will now have to wait until the events of next week to see if her spot will hold.
It became apparent from early on that the opening set was going to be closely contested, when Garcia used her forehand to bring up triple break point at 2-2 before Pliskova reeled off five straight points with her powerful serving to get out of that game with a hold.
Pliskova again held with an ace to lead 4-3 while Garcia countered once more with excellent striking from the forehand side to level the set at 4-4. The Frenchwoman tried to finish off points in the forecourt to good success, but her Czech opponent often came up with brilliant reflex passing shots to keep the set even.
Naturally, the set went to a tiebreak, where Pliskova dominated with huge forehands to race to a 5-1 lead. But when serving at 5-3 with the set on her racket, Pliskova hit two backhand errors, and suddenly, it was 5-5.
Good Pliskova defense led to a passing winner to give the Czech a set point at 6-5, but Garcia saved it with a huge error-forcing return. Garcia found herself with two set points during the remainder of the tiebreak, and completed her comeback in the breaker with a forehand volley winner, taking the set after a grueling 63 minutes.
Spurred on by her hard-fought one-set lead, Garcia took control in the early stages of the second set, garnering the first service break of the match to lead 2-0, and then using more power play to erase three break points in the following game and reach a 3-0 advantage.
Garcia eventually claimed another break to lead 5-0 and served for the match at 5-1. But there, however, the Frenchwoman succumbed to the power of Pliskova, as the Czech blasted a backhand winner on her third break point of the game to grasp one break back. Pliskova then held with an ace for 5-3, quickly putting the pressure back on Garcia.
"At 5-0 down, she had nothing more to lose, so she probably played a little bit more relaxed, and I got a little tight," Garcia admitted. "But there were some great rallies. I just tried to stay present and positive, not panic because she was coming back. I was still up, I was 5-3 and my serve, and in the match, I did some great service games, so I was just trying to do the same and focus point by point. That’s what helped me."
The second time around, Garcia was up to the task. A sterling crosscourt forehand gave Garcia her first match point, and the No.2 seed slammed an ace to close out the match, falling to her knees with joy as she added a singles title to her 2018 resume.